Athens, GA (May 12, 2008) - Sure, ESPN may run the day-today operations of ABC Sports. But they are not the ABC Network or ABC Sports. In fact, when they broadcast events on ABC, they are referred to as "ESPN on ABC." So this past Saturday night, why were Terry Gannon, Peggy Fleming, and the 79 year old Dick Button gushing about the fact that they have been so proud to have been part of ABC Sports 43rd consecutive year of broadcasting the ISU World Figure Skating Championships?
Let's start with the fact that it was a re-airing of a broadcast from March 22, 2008. So at one point it was on ABC, but now was being re-aired on ESPN almost two months after the event. Does this mean that ESPN, with so many outlets is lacking current programming to air at this time of the year? Or is it the fact that they will milk everything they can from the fact that starting next year, NBS Sports will have the US broadcast rights.
It was actually poignant to hear 79-year old Dick Button and Peggy Fleming deliver their eulogy-style wrap-up, citing the 40+ consecutive years the event has appeared on ABC. But they did not mention the significance that 72-year old Doug Wilson, who has directed figure skating broadcasts for over 40 years, retired at the conclusion of the event. As reported in the March 23rd edition of the L.A. Times:
The Wilson era ended Sunday, when he directed the exhibition telecast from the World Figure Skating Championships for ESPN/ABC. After 50 years of work for ABC, in which he directed or produced 40 sports, Wilson has promised his wife this is the finale, even if NBC were to come calling for help with its coverage of U.S. skating and the 2010 Olympics.
Speaking from Sweden, where he also directed the women's and dance competitions, Wilson, 72, was quick to credit all the others who helped him, especially the people behind cameras who provided the memorable shots from which he chose.
That includes Boitano's dramatic head snap at the start of his Olympic free skate and his look skyward at the end, the shot of Michelle Kwan's head coming up "almost reverentially" as she began the free skate for what would be her first world title in 1996, and, last week, the look of perplexity and delight on Mao Asada's face after she recovered from a fall in the opening seconds of her free skate to win the world title.
Every time you see a piece of historic footage on a skating telecast -- even many not aired by ESPN/ABC -- assume Wilson had something to do with it. His was the rarest alchemy, able to balance finding the best image without distorting the truth of the picture.
Watching figure skating on ABC always meant that you were watching a well-produced and directed event, where the event spoke for itself. Forget the judging controversies and the so-called fixes, there is simple and raw beauty in watching a flawless performance on ice. And yes, these are athletes.
Alas, now the world championships are moving to the hype-machine known as NBC Sports. The question is, without someone like Doug Wilson at the helm, will they be watchable? Hopefully, it will still be Tom Hammond making the calls.